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Contradictions emerge during Opry arson trial
Updated on: 01.29.14

On the witness stand Tuesday, former Little Nashville Opry owner Esther Hamilton stated that neither she nor the country music venue were in financial trouble.

“I never owed a dime when the Opry burned,” she said.

On Wednesday, Alan Strange, a forensic auditor with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) testified otherwise.

He said Hamilton and the Opry owed roughly $1.5 million in short- and long-term loans and operating expenses such as utilities, insurance and performer fees on Sept. 19, 2009. That was the day someone poured an ignitable liquid on and near the Opry stage and lit it on fire.

At the same time, the five Opry banking accounts contained a total of about $8,500, according to the ATF.

On day five of testimony, Prosecutor Jim Oliver focused on the gambling habits of Hamilton and the person she called her best friend, 77-year-old James D. Bowyer.

Bowyer is the former Opry business manager on trial for allegedly starting the fire that destroyed the Opry.

Oliver asked Strange to explain his findings from four Indiana casinos. The ATF officer said records from 2005 to 2009 show that Hamilton visited the casinos on 816 days. She spent $4.2 million and lost $152,000.

During the same time frame, Bowyer lost $163,000, while betting $1.7 million during 650 visits, according to Strange.

Hamilton testified that Bowyer did not gamble. She added that she gambled just “a couple times a month” when she got the chance.

Throughout the trial, defense attorney John Boren asked multiple witnesses if they were aware that Hamilton suffered a stroke in May 2013. Those who knew about the stroke indicated that the effects of it continue to linger.

On cross examination of Strange, Boren wanted to know if his investigation showed any evidence that Bowyer owned stock in Little Nashville Enterprises or contracted with the corporation that owned the Opry. Strange answered no to both matters.

Boren got Strange to say that the burning of the Opry differed in outcome from the sale of the Opry. A sale would have resulted in Bowyer receiving roughly $300,000, according to four promissory notes Bowyer wrote that were salvaged from the fire debris.

Strange also agreed that the Opry could have been rebuilt from the more than $3 million in insurance proceeds if the claim had been paid out.

The insurance money was never awarded. A judge ruled in favor of the insurance company because more than 50 percent of the sprinkler system had been dismantled, according to court records.

The trial is scheduled to resume at 8:30 a.m. Thursday. Oliver said he plans to rest the state’s side of the case by midday.

Read more in the Feb. 5 issue of the Brown County Democrat.

  • April 21
    Euchre
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive (fairgrounds)
  • April 21
    Open 12-step meeting in New Bellsville area
    8 p.m. Harmony Baptist Church, 3999 Mt. Liberty Road, New Bellesville
  • April 21
    Nashville Development Review Commission hearing
    6 p.m. Town Hall, 200 Commercial St.
  • April 21
    CSCD Board of Directors
    7 p.m. CSLOA Clubhouse, 8751 Nineveh Road
  • April 21
    Art of poetry program for children
    3:30 to 5 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • April 22
    BC Parks & Rec Board
    5:15 p.m. Parks & Rec Office, 1001 Deer Run Lane
  • April 22
    Jeff Foster at Hobnob restaurant
    6 to 8 p.m. Hobnob, 17 W. Main St.
  • April 22
    Free storm spotter training at Nashville Police Station
    6:30 to 8 p.m. Nashville Police Station, 200 Hawthorne Dr.
  • April 23
    Go Club at the library Thursdays
    3:30 to 5 p.m. Brown County Public Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • April 23
    Gospel jam & sing at Gnaw Bone church
    6:30 p.m. Country Gospel Music Church, 5181 State Road 46 East
  • April 23
    'McFarland, USA' at the Playhouse
    7 p.m. BC Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren St.
  • April 23
    Nashville Town Council
    3 p.m. Town Hall, 200 Commercial St.
  • April 23
    Morel Mushroom Festival kickoff at music park
    from 7 p.m. Bill Monroe Music Park, 5163 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • April 24
    Bingo
    6 p.m. Fruitdale Fire Station, 5200 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • April 24
    Wildflower foray slated at historic site
    TC Steele State Historic Site, 4220 T.C. Steele Road, Belmont
  • April 24
    'McFarland, USA' at the Playhouse
    4 p.m., 7 p.m. BC Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren St.
  • April 24
    Nashville Utilities work session
    10 a.m. Town Hall, 200 Commercial St.
  • April 24
    Annual library plant sale
    3 to 6 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • April 24
    Morel Mushroom Festival at music park
    9 a.m. to midnight Bill Monroe Music Park, 5163 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • April 25
    Euchre
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive (fairgrounds)
  • April 25
    Dave Miller at Abe Martin Lodge
    5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Abe Martin Lodge, Brown County State Park
  • April 25
    Wildflower foray slated at historic site
    TC Steele State Historic Site, 4220 T.C. Steele Road, Belmont
  • April 25
    Indiana Wine Fair returns to Story Inn
    12:30 to 7 p.m. Story Inn, 6404 State Road 135 South
  • April 25
    Chamber of Commerce to host ribbon cutting for BC Community Foundation
    2 p.m. BC Community Foundation, 209 N. Van Buren St
  • April 25
    Art classes set for fourth Saturdays at winery
    3 to 5 p.m. Chateau Thomas Winery, Coachlight Square, 225 S. Van Buren St.
  • April 25
    Women invited for free day of pampering
    10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Hope for Hearts Farm, 1005 State Road 45, 1 mile west of 135/Bean Blossom
  • April 25
    Youth art show award presentation
    1 to 5 p.m. BC Art Guild, 48 S. Van Buren St.
  • April 25
    Plant sale planned at state park
    9 a.m. until all sold Brown County State Park, State Road 46 East
  • April 25
    Craft fair to support Brown County 4-H
    9 a.m. to 3 p.m. fairgrounds
  • April 25
    Johnson County REMC annual meeting
    10 a.m. Franklin Community High School, 2600 Cumberland Dr.
  • April 25
    Annual library plant sale
    9 a.m. to noon Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • April 25
    Morel Mushroom Festival at music park
    9 a.m. to midnight Bill Monroe Music Park, 5163 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • April 26
    County history center dedication slated
    2 p.m. Brown County History Center, 90 E. Gould
  • April 26
    Wildflower foray slated at historic site
    TC Steele State Historic Site, 4220 T.C. Steele Road, Belmont
  • April 26
    'McFarland, USA' at the Playhouse
    4 p.m., 7 p.m. BC Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren St.
  • April 26
    Morel Festival gospel service at music park
    10 a.m. Bill Monroe Music Park, 5163 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • April 26
    Southern gospel quartet at Gnaw Bone church
    9 a.m. Country Gospel Music Church, 5181 State Road 46 East
  • April 26
    Dave Miller at Abe Martin Lodge
    Noon to 2 p.m. Brown County State Park, State Road 46 East
  • April 27
    BC Alcoholic Beverage Board
    11 a.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • April 28
    Euchre
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive (fairgrounds)
  • April 28
    BC Convention & Visitors Bureau
    8:30 a.m. Brown County State Park, 1450 State Road 46 East (north entrance)
  • April 28
    BC Area Plan Commission
    6 p.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • April 28
    Open 12-step meeting in New Bellsville area
    8 p.m. Harmony Baptist Church, 3999 Mt. Liberty Road, New Bellesville
  • April 29
    BC Board of Zoning Appeals
    6 p.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • April 29
    Jeff Foster at Hobnob restaurant
    6 to 8 p.m. Hobnob, 17 W. Main St.
  • April 29
    Lake Lemon Conservancy District Board
    6 p.m. Benton Township Senior Center, 7606 State Road 45, Unionville
  • April 30
    Go Club at the library
    4 to 6 p.m. Brown County Public Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • April 30
    WRAPS
    7 to 9 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • April 30
    Gospel jam & sing at Gnaw Bone church
    6:30 p.m. Country Gospel Music Church, 5181 State Road 46 East
  • May 1
    Bingo
    5 p.m. Fruitdale Fire Station, 5200 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • May 1
    'Back to the Future' at the Playhouse
    7 p.m. BC Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren St.
  • May 2
    Euchre
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive (fairgrounds)
  • May 2
    Dave Miller at Abe Martin Lodge
    5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Brown County State Park, State Road 46 East
  • May 2
    Spring Blossom Festival dance planned
    6 p.m. The Seasons Lodge, 560 State Road 46 East
  • May 2
    Spring Blossom Parade and food drive downtown
    11 a.m. downtown Nashville
  • May 3
    Read to a therapy dog at the library
    2 to 3:30 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • May 3
    Dave Miller at Abe Martin Lodge
    Noon to 2 p.m. Brown County State Park, State Road 46 East
  • May 6
    Jeff Foster at Hobnob restaurant
    6 to 8 p.m. Hobnob, 17 W. Main St.
  • May 7
    WRAPS
    7 to 9 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • May 7
    Gospel jam & sing at Gnaw Bone church
    6:30 p.m. Country Gospel Music Church, 5181 State Road 46 East
  • May 7
    BC photography club
    7 to 9 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • May 8
    Bingo
    6 p.m. Fruitdale Fire Station, 5200 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • May 9
    Free community breakfast at Sprunica church
    8 to 10 a.m. Sprunica Baptist Church, 3902 Sprunica Road
  • May 9
    Open house conducted at New Song
    9 to 11 a.m. New Song Mission, 7202 Keith Donaldson Road, Freetown
  • May 11
    BC Election Board
    2 p.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • May 14
    Local Coordinating Council
    8 a.m. Comm. Corrections Office, Suite B, lower level of Veterans Hall, 902 Deer Run Lane,
  • May 16
    Dave Miller at Abe Martin Lodge
    5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Abe Martin Lodge, Brown County State Park
  • May 16
    Rock & mineral club
    6 p.m. Extension Office, 802 Memorial Drive at the fairgrounds
  • May 16
    Historic site hosts outdoor art contest
    7 a.m. to 4 p.m. TC Steele State Historic Site, 4220 T.C. Steele Road, Belmont